- Identification and Creation
- Object Number
- Fragments of a Textile Hanging with Female Busts
- Textile Arts
- Work Type
- 5th-6th century
- Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
- Byzantine period, Early
- Persistent Link
- Physical Descriptions
- Wool and linen
- Woven, tapestry weave
- 18 cm h x 107 cm w (7 1/16 in. h x 42 1/8 in. w)
- Hagop Kevorkian collection, gift; to the Fogg Museum, 1975.
- Acquisition and Rights
- Credit Line
- Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Foundation in memory of Hagop Kevorkian
- Accession Year
- Object Number
- Asian and Mediterranean Art
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- This fragmentary tapestry-woven textile depicts five female busts representing well dressed woman interspersed with stylized pink and green palmettes. The exact orientation of these heads is uncertain, but this was most likely a hanging depicting a secular theme and hung in a domestic space. All the women are dark-haired and wear headdresses topped with crowns; what are either veils or haloes are covered in large round pearls. Though the busts may appear identical at first glance, they are marked by subtle variations in eye color, expression, and details of tunics and jewelry. All of their elaborate robes vary in decoration—some are woven with flower patterns, others are studded with jewels. Each woman registers a somewhat different expression. The most prominent feature of the faces is the eyes, with arched brows. Four of the women look to their left, while the rightmost returns their gaze. In the four women who look to the right, eye color alternates between blue and brown.
This pattern of female busts alternating with flowers seems to have been a common decorative trope in Byzantine interior spaces in Egypt and is attested in several media including architectural friezes. Such luxuriously dressed women may represent general ideas of prosperity, luxury, or feminine beauty. Their appearance is reminiscent of the (typically female) personifications of natural elements or beneficent concepts common to Late Antique art, such as the seasons, Earth, Renewal, and Enjoyment. In this particular textile, they may also represent tyche figures or empresses because of their turreted crowns.
There are areas of plain woven linen above and below the tapestry band.
- Comparable textiles in other institutions: Brooklyn Museum 38.684; Museum of Fine Arts Boston 30.685; University of Toronto, Malcove Collection M82.44; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 52.Dt.38
On many of the other similar textiles the women clearly wear a diadem and have haloes, instead of the more ambiguous headdress studded with pearls on this textile.
- Publication History
Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), pp. 174-175/fig. 92
- Exhibition History
Pagan and Christian Egypt: Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century AD, Brooklyn Museum of Art, 01/23/1941 - 03/09/1941
Byzantine Women and Their World, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/25/2002 - 04/28/2003
32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/30/2018 - 05/08/2019
- Related Works
This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at firstname.lastname@example.org